Hawaii football beat writer gives us a glimpse of the Rainbow Warriors ahead of Week 11
The Collegian: Coming into the season, what were some of the goals for this Hawaii team that has struggled severely in recent years?
McCracken: For the past three seasons, there has been nothing but disappointment surrounding the Warrior football program. It’s been frustrating for Hawai’i fans these past few years after being spoiled by June Jones and to an extent, Greg McMackin. This year, things were supposed to finally turn around. Max Wittek, a USC transfer, was supposed to be the man to save UH’s stagnant offense. There were no excuses coming into this year. It’s safe to say that most people figured that this team could flirt with a .500 winning percentage, possibly being in contention for the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl at the end of the season, but as you can see, things went south fast after starting 2-1 this season.
The Collegian: The Rainbow Warriors are 2-8 on the season and coming off seven straight losses. Where do they go from here?
McCracken: When you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. This team has talented players and has proven that they can compete against solid opposition, although that is not necessarily reflected in the box score after each game. With Chris Naoele in charge as the team’s interim head coach, effort and discipline are two things that he will instill in this team down the stretch. Expectations remain low for the rest of the season, but the team is looking to finish strong.
The Collegian: Is there a clear identity for this year’s Hawaii team?
McCracken: There isn’t a clear identity for this football team, and that’s been a huge problem. Too often has this team had an identity crisis in the middle of competitive games. Should we continue running the ball and drain the game clock or look to speed up our offense in a spread? There is no predicting what play the Warriors will call next, and too many times the Warriors have been caught in a third-and-long situation where they opted to run the ball or call a conservative play instead of taking a chance to move the ball downfield.
The Collegian: Wittek has been the starter for the Warriors, but junior Ikaika Woolsey has also received playing time. How has each performed, and what is the state of Hawaii’s quarterback situation?
McCracken: Wittek has been, to say the least, a bust. But that’s not entirely his fault. There have been a lot of injuries to the wide receiver position, running backs and offensive linemen. And when they are healthy, the offensive linemen fail to protect our quarterback on a consistent basis. Woolsey was the team’s starter at the end of last season and showed some ability to make plays. However, he is still not the answer UH is looking for under center. Woolsey is the starter this weekend against Fresno State, but Naoele has already said that he’s not afraid to pull Woolsey in favor of Wittek if it’s necessary.
The Collegian: Have there been any bright spots on the team despite the 0-6 conference record?
McCracken: Running back Paul Harris has been productive when he’s been on the field. Harris took over the starting running back position early on this year and has run for 661 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Last week against UNLV, he ran for 190 yards and a pair of touchdowns, despite the loss. On the defensive side of the ball, Julian Gener, Jerrol Garcia-Williams and Kennedy Tulimaseali have each been critical to this year’s defense. Gener is second on the team in tackles with 69, behind only Garcia-Williams who has amassed 89 tackles through 10 games. Tulimaseali is a nose tackle for this team and is often seeing double and triple teams, but that hasn’t stopped him from registering 13.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks this season.
The Collegian: What are some of the team’s major weaknesses that have led to the disastrous season?
McCracken: The team’s offensive line hasn’t made the strides that were expected in the offseason. The secondary is thin, the play-calling has been far too inconsistent and dropped passes have plagued this football team not just this season, but in the last three years as well.
The Collegian: How has the team responded to the firing of head coach Norm Chow?
McCracken: It’s difficult to actually say since the team was away last week to UNLV, but they seem more energized and upbeat since Naoele took over. Against Air Force two weeks ago, the Warriors looked sluggish and disinterested. Even though they lost against UNLV, the effort to make plays was there, and as a coach, that’s all Naoele can really ask for at this point in the season.
The Collegian: Naeole is now serving as the interim head coach. What type of approach does he bring?
McCracken: Ask any player on the football team and ask who the scariest person on the team is, and they will say ‘Chris Naoele.’ He is a tough coach, but a fair one. If you work hard, play hard and show up with a winning mentality every time you step on the field, then you’re playing Naoele’s brand of football. He doesn’t take any excuses and doesn’t care what happened in the past. He wants to move forward, finish out the season strong and have his players ready to go each Saturday.
The Collegian: Fresno State and Hawaii seem to be evenly matched entering Week 11, and in the last two meetings, the Warriors have nearly come from behind to pull off upsets. Do you feel this is the year Hawaii can pull off a win over the Bulldogs?
McCracken: UH is favored to win this game by a few points, and being at home, knowing they don’t have to travel anywhere for the rest of the season, must be uplifting for the team. If Hawai’i is going to win another game this season, Saturday is going to be a competitive game against a rival and should be another close game going into the second half. I do feel that the Warriors have a shot, but only if they play a game where they don’t turn over the ball.
The Collegian: Score prediction?
McCracken: Fresno State 24, Hawai’i 20.